Saga of Indian Farmers

Prof  M  K  Bhat
Farmers have a distinct place of their own in Indian society; they burn their skin, feed the nation, and yet live a life of poverty and backwardness. They comprise 48% of the total population, so no political party can afford to neglect them. They are remembered at the time of elections with much fanfare and huge number of assurances are  given to them  for voting . They lack irrigation, finance, marketing skills, storage facility etc for improving their productivity but their high rate of illiteracy makes them content with lollipops they have been enjoying with all humility in the last seventy years of independence. They have very less people to speak on TV channels for their cause. They are glorified with glamorous words like Ann Data, Jai Kisan etc. Their agitations are rustic without any definite goal and are mostly swayed by political parties with their own ends. They have become an example to showcase poverty or extravagant decisions of the Governments. Farmers of India get space in the media either when they commit a suicide or when a politician gets a higher position, in order to justify his credentials he positions himself as the son of a farmer.
Agriculture is one of the biggest enterprise in the country as per 2011 census, the number of agriculture workers in the country was 26.3 crore comprising 11.87 crore as cultivators and 14.43 crore of agriculture laborers. This in terms of percentage of total number of workers accounted for 45.1 and 54.9 respectively.  The sub division and fragmentation is swelling the landless and marginal cultivators, restricts scientific application and leads to their vicious circle of poverty. The land less and marginal farmers are forced to borrow from market at a higher rate of interest as they have nothing to mortgage. They borrow for consumption, daily needs and education etc. The lease cost is 10 to 15 % of the agriculture produce.
The farm workers are least beneficiaries of Government policies and are mostly susceptible to suicides because of the high interest they pay to money lenders. Most of them were not having their bank accounts till Jan Dhan Yojana scheme introduced by Modi Government. 300 million in India do not own any land and land less is one who owns land below 0.002 hectares or 215 square feet. 101.4 million or 56.4 % of rural households own no agricultural land and posses temporary employment.
The problem of Indian farmers has not been addressed properly in the last seventy years and no overnight magic can be a reality. It needs to be mentioned here that agriculture contributed 51.9 % of India’s GDP in 1950 and today it stands at 13.9 %.  The successive governments over the years served doles out of the tax payers’ money and got short term praises but did nothing concrete to find any long term solution to their problems. They without analyzing   problems have come out with short term solutions to avert the main issues.  One of the repeated short term and time tested lollipop is waving of farmers’ loans, it has yielded good results politically, but economically it is not feasible and cannot be justified. There is a need to develop proper solution to their problems so that harmonious development of the country takes place in real sense.
The planners gave a uniform treatment to the problems of agriculture sector which helped the big farmers at the cost of small and marginal farmers. 95.1% of Indian farmers are called marginal, small or semi medium farmers. They own up to 2.47, 4.94 and 9.88 acres of land respectively. They can hardly compete with the big farmers who enjoy a higher level of living, have money to avail the facilities provided by governments, are literate and have 45 times more land than the marginal farmers. They enjoy not only subsidy, but also the facility of tax exemption. The question often raised by certain quarters is that why agriculture sector should not be taxed especially in case of big farmers. It is evident by the fact that 4.9 percent of Indian farmers control 32% of India’s farm land
Certain big questions that need to be addressed for improving the conditions of farmers are: How to withdraw extra labor force from farm lands to real economic activity? How to make agriculture lucrative for farmers by increasing yield per hectare? How to take care of soil health? How to make farmers scientific in their outlook etc.?
The present government with a target of doubling the income of farmers has come out with a few solid policies like  soil testing, Neem Urea , more crop per drop, Mudhra Yojana etc The government  seems more pragmatic in its approach towards the problems of farmers.
The Government in last three years has tried for escalation of farmers’ income through the reduction of cost of cultivation.  It has started soil health card to aware farmers about the requirement of nutrients of soil, it may save the farmers wastage of money and may provide the required nutrients to land and is expected to increase the production. Param Paragat Krishi vikas yojana has been started with an aim to increase organic farming. The cabinet committee on economic affairs favored blue revolution with 3000 crore for the next five years. The government launched PM Krishi Sanchayee Yojana on july1st 2015 aiming at more crop per drop with a directorate under ministry of water resources. It involved 99 projects under accelerated irrigation benefit program which will irrigate 76 lakh hectares
Under PM Fasal Beema yojana, farmer’s share of premium was pegged at 2% of the khariff crop, 1.5% for the rabbi crop and 5% for annual commercial and horticulture crops. It covered 37.5 million hectares in Khariff 2016. It also promises speedy claim settlement through technology. It may help save them from the brutal seasonal problems.
One of the biggest problems faced by farmers is marketing of their agricultural produce. The middlemen get the maximum benefit and farmers are relegated to the back seat. In order to make the farmer to enjoy the maximum from his yield, the government has started e connecting of agriculture markets. 417 Mandi’s in 13 states have been connected through software.
The policies no doubt are good but much awareness/public support is required to make them practical as new policies take time to get their acceptance.
(The author is Director (M.A.I.M.S) Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi)